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Milwaukee's Intimate Yellow Phone Music Conference

Sep. 27, 2011
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As Austin's South by Southwest and New York's CMJ Music Marathon music conferences ballooned into massive, citywide concerts, they began to outgrow their original purpose, making it hard, if not nearly impossible, for bands to get face time with industry professionals. That won't be the case at this weekend's Yellow Phone Music Conference in Milwaukee, organizers Doug Johnson, David Silbaugh and Scott Ziel promise.

The three partners at Pursuit Live, an entertainment consultation company that works with Summerfest, created Yellow Phone after realizing that other music conferences (in addition to all being a long flight away from the Midwest) were no longer tailored to truly independent musicians.

"We have all been going to South by Southwest for a long time, but we found it increasingly hard to find unsigned, new and upcoming bands there amid all the established acts," Johnson says. "We had talked to some of our cohorts out in Los Angeles and they had a similar impression. They said they weren't going to South by Southwest because there weren't bands on the spot they could sign, since every act they saw had already been signed. We all thought that these events would work better for both parties if bands were able to network with industry professionals in a boutique situation, where they could actually talk one on one."

Yellow Phone's more intimate setting will allow for panels and mentoring sessions that are customized to each band's concerns, Ziel says.

"Since every band is in a different position in their career, we've tried to create an environment where each of them gets to sit in a room with an agent, a manager or a record company contact and ask questions directly to them about their own specific needs," Ziel says. "We've assembled a really impressive cross-section of some great agents, managers, label people and buyers who can speak about common concerns that a lot of bands have, like how to book shows, but can also help bands in more unique situations."

Among the panelists at the three-day event are Ken Abdo, an entertainment lawyer who has represented The Replacements and Hall & Oates; Shaun Arnold, founder of Scottish music festival goNORTH; Dangerbird Records founder Jeff Castelaz; Peter Cohen, a talent producer for TV shows including "The Voice"; Warner Bros. Records A&R rep Nick Haussling; Megadeth and Staind producer Johnny K; Chicago talent buyer Phil Kosch; Bloodshot Records co-founder Rob Miller; and Pabst Theater/Turner Hall Ballroom talent buyer Marc Solheim.

One of the take-away messages from the conference, Johnson says, will be that despite the opportunities the Internet has created for D.I.Y. musicians, making connections with these kinds of agents, promoters and managers is still important for most bands.

"Because of the Internet, there are so many ways to stand out, but there's so much noise out there that it's hard to get anybody's attention," Johnson says. "Musicians have to figure out new ways to stand out, then. It's not enough just to have a page on Facebook, Myspace, ReverbNation or Sonicbids. So many musicians think they can do it all themselves these days, but the truth is they need outside help with licensing, management or promotion if they want to be successful, because all those things take a tremendous amount of time and work. We want to teach musicians how to build a team around them to help their careers so they can just concentrate on being creative and making music."

The Yellow Phone Music Conference runs Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the InterContinental Hotel, 139 E. Kilbourn Ave., following a kickoff party at the hotel from 8-11 p.m. Sept. 29. Registration is $99 per person. For more information, visit theypmc.com.


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